by: Tony “RadarX” Jones
Turbine has gone out of it's way to separate Lord of the Rings Online from every other fantasy MMO on the market. A perfect example of this is the terminology used in the game. A group is a fellowship, a guild is a kinship, and crafting classes are vocations/professions. While part of me wants us to just call an apple an apple, it's nice to see them try and separate themselves from the pack like this. The latest in the name game was an announcement of their Test server aptly named the "Preview Server." A server open for public testing is hardly unusual, however having its players sign an NDA is. While there are some benefits to this unorthodox move, a number of risks are involved.
Controlling the Flow
A valid portion of media and excitement comes from content currently in production. Nothing showcases this like media scouring the test server. Previews and screenshots can generate as much buzz than any good marketing campaign and it just takes a few key sites to hop on board. The NDA is pretty much telling media they aren't writing about what they see providing little incentive at this point to checking it out.
On the positive side of this Turbine will have complete control over the information leaving the server. Many times just a small leak to the public can cause a variety of issues. In EverQuest 2 for example, Ten Ton Hammer broke the story of a new race and city using a few screenshots and files accidentally added to a test server patch. Like pirated movies being released on the internet, by the time the official announcement came everyone had already seen it. Sure everyone was still excited but it just didn't have the shock and awe value we'd have seen by a complete surprise. .
Another downside I can see to this is the limit of player input. The entire testing population will be the only soundboard for changes for every class and tradeskill. The people on these servers are dedicated and some of the most intelligent people around. They however are usually not the most hardcore and usually do not push the envelope (I say this having played extensively on 3 or 4 test servers) of play. Even if they do, they spend more time testing than playing and it's easy to miss something.
Let's be honest, having unpopular changes in the public eye brings everyone and their Uncle Remus to complain about it. An NDA controlled server would keep these changes under wraps until they were completely sorted out. It would also reduce the ungodly signal to noise ration with said Uncle Remus providing clearer feedback.
Ok, I'll admit there aren't a plethora of issues surrounding the Preview server, just a few large aspects I hope they've taken under consideration. Not everyone can appreciate or respect secrecy and demand transparency in their products. I've already seen a few conspiracy theorists who will swear they are making the game like Star Wars Galaxies. Playing in numerous betas (especially Horizons) has taught me one thing, an NDA is only as good as the content you are keeping quiet.
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